By Joseph B.A. Marzan
Iloilo City did not fall silent on Wednesday, Sept 21, 2022, as activists, students, and other sectoral leaders gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of what would lead to the country’s darkest days after the Second World War.
The University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) kickstarted the activities with a roundtable discussion featuring the life histories and perspectives of Martial Law survivors and their kin at their Iloilo City campus’ Little Theater.
The survivors include former government worker and community organizer Estela Paredes from Miagao town and lawyer Elias Guiloreza from Leganes.
Joining them were kin of survivors including Guiloreza’s daughter Rea Faye Joy, who is also now a lawyer, and May Wan Posa-Dominado, daughter of the late activist Luisa Posa.
Paredes, whose husband Ephraim also suffered from violence during the first Marcos regime, shared that the first time she was invited to speak about her experience as a survivor in 2017, her blood pressure shot up because of the emotions she felt while sharing her story to high school students.
She recalled how her town just finished its annual festival when they learned about the declaration of Martial Law in Manila, and how a boarding house she run with her husband in Iloilo City was raided by the Philippine Constabulary (PC) and the Military Intelligence Group (MIG) in November 1973.
“In one of the rooms, one male boarder was reading comics when a PC soldier kicked his door and shouted [in Tagalog] ‘What can you say about Mr. Paredes?’ Being nervous, he answered, ‘He was beautiful.’ He may have stated the line from the comics,” Paredes shared.
“Just like now, soldiers are also farmers. They know how to plant rice, by planting illegal things, for us, it was alleged subversive reading materials,” she added.
She also narrated how she lived her life in fear, visiting her husband daily during his detention at Camp Martin Delgado while working at the National Economic and Development Authority.
Despite her husband’s release, she said they continued to live in fear and trouble, sensing changes in his behavior.
“I would not know whether if I reached the camp, I would still find my husband alive, missing, or dead. I learned that some of the detainees would be picked up in the evening, for alleged interrogation, and would not be back in their cell,” she said.
“There was also the worry that I would be detained because when our house was raided, the PC soldiers wanted me to be detained too, but [they said] I was too kind. I recall giving coffee to the raiding team and giving medicine to one of the soldiers. It pays to be kind,” she added.
Paredes said that the era heightened her consciousness on the poor and helped her develop critical thinking against corrupt officials and wrong policies, and implored attendees to learn more about the factual history so that they too would be encouraged to stand up for their fellow Filipinos.
She highlighted that even as she has survived that time, “No amount of financial remunerations could compensate the trauma and difficulties that human rights victims and their families suffered during Martial Law.”
“Shall we just wait and be complacent with the turn of events because we are scholars of the nation? My challenge to everyone, do not allow bad memories of Martial Law to paralyze us. Instead, it should give us courage to work against those people, structures, policies which are suppressive, exploitative, and curtail our human rights,” she said.
Guiloreza, who was on the frontlines as an activist in his younger years, shared his experience in the early 1970s protesting against rising oil prices while studying at the Central Philippine University.
He recalled how, after just a few days into Martial Law, he was the subject of a raid stemming from a film showing at the UP Iloilo that he attended.
He also shared a bit of his experience being with Paredes’ husband at Delgado, being cramped with 112 other detainees in one area and sharing some of the facilities and equipment, while sharing the rice they receive from outside with residents of the barangays near the facility.
“I was out [of the house] at that time. When I was on the way home, I saw my neighbor walking and when he saw me, he pulled me into their house and told me not to go home yet, warning that I might get caught,” Guiloreza narrated.
“We weren’t able to experience eating corn. At that time, rice was lacking in supply, so the trend at that time was rice mixed with corn. Detainees’ families from the rural areas would bring sacks of rice, which we were able to cook. The supply that we received, we gave them to the younger ones, for their families, so the people at the Veterans Village just outside [of the detention facility] were very happy,” he also shared.
Their main concerns inside the detention facility were that there were no charges pushed against them while they were there, but they were being persecuted publicly for being “undesirables” against the government.
“Many of us were able to get out, but the thought was always uncertain, whether or not we would get out. They may have seen us as ‘hardcore’ and not let us out,” he stated.
In the current Marcos Jr. administration, Guiloreza shared a prior talk he had at West Visayas State University on Tuesday, where he observed a very warm welcome.
He said the reception he got convinced him that if history were to repeat itself and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also declared Martial Law, it wouldn’t be as long as his father did.
The younger Rea Faye Joy Guiloreza shared how she grew up with the stories of her parents from their times as activists, and how this also inspired her to take up activism and to study law.
“My mother, as a wife of a political prisoner like [Paredes], she organized themselves, the women, the families of political prisoners. The stories of Martial Law were very personal to me. I grew up listening to these stories. So, it was very normalized and I felt that everyone had activist parents, but then I realized that not everyone had that upbringing,” Rea shared.
“On my own, based on [my father’s] stories, it gave me material to formulate my own ideas, my own principles, and to apply these personal stories to the current situation of the society,” she added.
As to the disinformation, the newly minted lawyer said that there was a lack of opportunities to talk about Martial Law and its horrors.
“We have to wait for September 21 to talk about Martial Law and the activists. Our educational system right now is neoliberal, just producing graduates, just memorizing dates, names, and events. We are not given a special curriculum to make students understand and be exposed to these stories. It was a failure on the part of the administrations after [Ferdinand Marcos Sr.],” she said.
Dominado, whose mother Ma. Luisa was a Martial Law detainee and ‘desaparecido’ (disappeared) during the Gloria Arroyo administration, shared that she wasn’t able to see much of her mother growing up because of the dangers being chased by the military.
During the Corazon Aquino administration, her mother was detained at Delgado, and was abducted in 2007, and is still missing until now.
“When I was two months old, I was left in the care of our relatives who themselves had a student activist turned freedom fighter who died in Antique in 1973. Thinking that my father was like their son, underground, took care of me,” she shared.
“The stories of Martial Law is personal to me, is that it’s not just a story of Martial Law. I saw it as a systemic problem of our country, which may be connected to our other problems of our country, and also to why we have another Marcos as a president despite the numerous human rights violations committed by his father’s administration,” she added.
In a video message, UPV Chancellor Clement Camposano said that chanting “never again” was no longer enough to assert the historical truths behind the 14-year dictatorship installed by President Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
Camposano said the problem was that many people, including those who assert the facts as they were, often stay on the surface and do not go beyond, which enabled the minimizing of historical facts into mere individual personal truths and the failure to completely safeguard our present from the horrors of our past.
He said that the anniversary of the 1972 Martial Law declaration was an opportunity for the academe to “reflect more deeply, more honestly and, indeed, more critically on the requisites of a democratic polity.”
“The attention paid to facts and the neglect of meaningful analysis of these very same facts are, in my view, at the heart of the problem. Martial Law did not happen overnight, nor was it the singular work of a few individuals. Martial Law happened because our democratic institutions are without firm roots in everyday life,” Camposano added in his recorded address.
“We adopted a democratic form of government but failed to become effective and committed democratic citizens. Our proclivities are out of tune with our democratic ambitions as a people.”
Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas, also briefly a political prisoner of the regime, commemorated the Martial Law declaration on his official Facebook, saying that this should be a reminder for the people to use their voice.
“After half a century, we remember the strong voices of the people who want progressive change. May those moments remind us to properly use our voice to fight for what we deserve and the future we want,” the mayor said in his statement.
ON TO THE STREETS
Wednesday afternoon saw a coalescing of youth, students, and sectoral leaders and activists commemorating the Martial Law declaration by calling on the current government, led now by the late dictator’s son, Marcos Jr., for progressive reforms.
Student activists were joined by other marginalized sectors including religious, women, urban poor, transport workers, and laborers, among others, marching from the UPV Iloilo City campus and West Visayas State University in La Paz district, among other schools.
Progressive group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Panay, in a statement, said that the public must not allow Martial Law to happen again under Marcos Jr.
They cited the ongoing inflation, food shortage crises, and the consistent numbers of unemployment and underemployment among the populace, as well as attacks on activists and human rights defenders in Aklan, Capiz, and Iloilo.
“[T]his is not the time to retreat or surrender. With the worsening economic and political crises, we call on the people to rise and continue the fight for freedom and justice. No messianic leader or opposition figure will rid us of the inequities in our society. Our future is in our hands and we must act to protect it. If there is one thing our collective experience under the first Marcos regime has shown, it is that tyrants and thieves will never prevail and that repressive governments will, ultimately, be vanquished by people committed to truth and social change,” they said in their statement.